Loose Women – Women’s talk and ideological restriction
Faye Davies / Birmingham City University
All female talk TV shows are still quite a rarity on the UK televisual landscape, but they do exist. Loose Women is such a show talk show; shown each weekday lunch time, it combines general gossip with celebrity promotional appearances (either masquerading as interviews or song performances). In essence, Loose Women is a UK version of the US show The Talk – women talk about typically feminine issues in these shows. There is discussion about relationships, children, sex, sexuality, age, beauty, celebrity news stories and very personal aspects of the hosts’ lives.
Discursively, both of these programmes raise interesting questions, especially with regards to their popularity with female viewers. They are also both a reflection and construction of the contemporary ideological understanding of what it means to be a woman between the ages of 35-55 (the approximate ages of the participants). Such shows fuel and construct distinct expectations in a world which has seen vast changes with regard to fragmenting feminine identity and our wider understanding of who women ‘should be’ in an ideological sense.
Unsurprisingly, Loose Women focuses on what can be termed ‘women’s issues’ from its opening content. Often news stories are flagged for discussion on the panel and viewers are inviting to offer their commentary via email, Twitter and Facebook.
In actual fact, few viewer insights are discussed and mentioned during the course of the show, but there is no doubt that this invitation encourages and supports the notion that women have an emotionally-based community discourse where women’s issues and concerns are celebrated and given attention. In some sense, then, such talk shows exemplify and celebrate ‘gossip’ as a feminine trait.
Gossip has long been considered a key part of feminine discourse, especially in relation to television. It can be claimed that gossip in this sense can be ideologically positive and liberating for female participants, and in this case viewers of the show. In Loose Women, a positive factor is that women’s issues are given space and time for discussion and are not defined by a masculine, patriarchal or dominant discourse which defines women an object to be looked at or role to be played in relation to the masculine.
In this sense the gossip in Loose Women is, “…talking between women in their roles as women, intimate in style, personal and domestic in topic and setting, a female cultural event which springs from and perpetuates the restrictions of the female role, but also gives the comfort of validation.”1
Loose Women achieves its status as a validating cultural event in a number of ways. The show maintains a core of presenters who drop in and out of the community constructed for viewers. The very fact that these women are placed around a table with mugs of tea or coffee reflects a representation which is domesticated in nature; a reconstruction of literally being around the kitchen table at lunchtime. These presenters appear on ‘the side’ of women and the show’s community atmosphere is constructed ‘for us’; essentially providing a social sphere for female viewers and their issues.
Loose Women generates ‘gossip’ about women’s issues both inside and outside the show and space is given to issues which concern women and impact on their lives. Arguably, then, Loose Women and the related feminine discourses which are present in the wider mass media acknowledge the existing cultural position of women in society. This cultural construction occurs when the studio audience and viewers at home are invited into personalised moments via the inclusion of stories and admittances from the panel. At the heart of this construction is discussion of presenters talk about their lives, relationships, children – whatever is occurring in their personal life appears to be available on screen, many ‘stories’ have also made the tabloid press, the discourse expanding into the wider UK mass media. Earlier this year, lead host Andrea Mclean announced her divorce on the show, soon followed by fellow presenter Denise Welch:
Personalisation also appears to also be a factor in the US equivalent of ‘female’ talk shows and is perhaps one of the key popularity factors in relation to the all-female talk show genre. But Loose Women is also ideologically restrictive in its ‘perpetuation of the restrictions of the female role’. It’s often constructed that women’s independence from family life or male-female relationships is something to be concerned about, derided or pitied and sympathised with. The discursive space is a heterosexual one in terms of feminine sexuality and is usually a majority white show in terms of hosting choices. This is actually something which isn’t shared by The Talk which is hosted and exec produced by the out Sara Gilbert and has a variety of black and Asian hosts.
So, in essence, the participants of Loose Women appear compelled to take part in discussion around distinct issues which are traditionally female and ideologically restrictive such as care issues, emotional issues and relationship issues in order to be part of the feminine discursive realm. This could be said to only encourages a sense of self-governmentality where discussion, nurturing and care are a key part of being female and traditionally male issues such as business, entrepreneurship and politics/hard news are not discussed in any serious depth, if at all.
In conclusion, Loose Women treads a fine hegemonic line. In some senses it is asserting the feminine traits of women in a community situation which is constructed to feel independent of masculine discourse and definition. Whilst constructing this positive space, it also fulfils the ideological gender divide, fulfilling a long held stereotype of women’s issues as less worthy, less serious and certainly less important as those dealt with in masculine genres.
1. Trio of Loose Women
Please feel free to comment.
- Jones, D., (1980) ‘Gossip: Notes on Women’s Oral Culture.’ Women’s Studies International Quarterly, 3, 193-198 [↩]
I appreciate your discussion of the contradictory constructions of Loose Women, and it urged me to further investigate the show’s implications. The show effectively cultivates a women’s culture that is defined by women; yet this culture is ultimately inferior to that of the patriarchal. These women broadcast their personal issues that are marked as being “feminine.” Consequently, the presenters do not offer intellectual material to empower their viewers. I think it would be thought provoking to consider the effects of this inclination to solely present gossip material. Do female viewers regard shows like Loose Women as an indulgence in which they can see through the contradictory representation of feminine culture? Or are they duped into feeling empowered by the treatment of sensitive and traditionally feminine topics?
The show indicates that nothing is private in our contemporary society and effectively mirrors the aspirations of reality programming. Reality TV characters frequently share private issues publicly, just as Denise Welsh divulges her divorce publicly on Loose Women. It reminded me of the popular Bravo franchise The Real Housewives, which showcases private relationship quandaries to viewers (often female). Loose Women emulates reality TV’s realism as the presenters are robbed of their own privacy.
Finally, your post encouraged me to revisit James Bennett’s most recent book, Television Personalities: Stardom and the Small Screen. Historically, the UK has had a tendency to feature female TV performers who could relate with more traditional notions of domestic femininity. He cited Rachel Moseley’s discussion of Marguerite Patten’s cookery programming (1950s) to highlight the UK’s emphasis on TV performers as working women with domestic commitments(Bennett 85). The presenters from Loose Women reinvigorate this tendency as they share their personal familial issues in the workplace.
Source: Bennett, James. Television Personalities: Stardom and the Small Screen. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.
Thank you for the compelling and thorough exploration of the construction of “Loose Women,” and its presentation of “women’s issues.” The quotations around that phrase made me chuckle and are, of course, entirely appropriate. By sorting through the exact nature of these particular “women’s issues,” it’s very clear that this show – and many that mimic the format – truly only explore one facet of the female experience. It’s a facet that’s highly acceptable to, and largely created by, our male-centered society: woman as the homemaker, the wife and mother, the light, pretty, maybe even frivolous appendage to men. The definition of women perpetuated by shows like this is quite narrow, as the author points out, and it’s a bit frightening to think that this show might reinforce its scant ideological sense of the contemporary woman as a full and complete portrait of femininity. It’s restrictive, as the author says, and it certainly doesn’t break any molds in terms of the representation of women on TV.
However, I wouldn’t cast this programming off as entirely anti-feminist or archaic. Despite sticking to stereotypically female issues and avoiding more serious, traditionally masculine topics like hard news or politics (which makes me uncomfortable and frustrated), I find there’s something novel in the format of these shows. The community-creating efforts, from the “around the coffee table” atmosphere to the way the hosts share personal stories to the audience’s communication capability via Internet, creates a strong, female social network. This is quite empowering, even from an abstract level. Even if the tweets and emails from the viewers are rarely discussed, as the author points out, the show goes to lengths to make viewers aware of their ability to weigh in. The fact that women viewers everywhere might feel a sense of connection to a realm where they can gossip, rant, voice the truth about their relationships with men, in fact provides an incredible outlet for people who might not otherwise have one. The show transmits a sense of connectedness, a sense of friendly unity. And for women who may not have strong networks of females in their lives, the existence of such a sphere – even a virtual one – might allow them to feel less isolated, or see gender roles differently.
I’d argue that while the range of topics and the construction of the show are not empowering, the sense of community has positive implications for women who watch shows like “Loose Women,” “The Talk,” or “The View.”
Interesting article! I wasn’t familiar with this show, but it does seem similar to many shows we have in the States, like The View.
From the clips in the article and what you described, it does seem to be somewhat of a contradictory show. One of the things that struck me immediately was the fact that the show is titled “Loose Women”. The name itself implies that there is something wrong with what these women are doing, as if women shouldn’t talk about things related to women. At the same time, the show tries to celebrate women, or at least a particular notion of women, and uses the name in a cheeky, almost rebellious, sort of way. What the show discusses– family, relationships, fashion, etc– doesn’t seem to be that groundbreaking for a female show, but it does so without shame. While Loose Women does reinforce some negative ideas about females and their role in society, it does it in a playful way that at least doesn’t make women ashamed to have been born women.
On one hand, the show helps to give women a community and a voice on television; on the other hand, it does little to redefine what the concept of “women’s issues” entails. I think because it feels that it needs to be female focused, perhaps the show falls back onto what has traditionally been seen as female. The problem is that women face a lot of issues, some of which overlap with the issues that men face. The show might shy away from general issues that may cast women in a slightly more daring light because it doesn’t cater to its perceived audience.
By carving itself a niche, Loose Women resorts to comforting, but not groundbreaking, notions of its audience.
After hearing of this show’s existence I am not shocked that female talk shows are a rarity in the UK television landscape. My first thought just hearing the title Loose Women is not that of a respectable source to hear commentary on major woman’s issues of the day. The crudeness that this tile suggests is that of maybe a comedic talk show, but if these women have any hopes of exchanging meaningful conversation that may spur interest, the title is a first step in the wrong direction. However, seeing how everyone else seems to get past the title with it becoming such a popular television broadcast, I compare it to America’s the View. Both shows very much are structured and serve the same function as text, however just by entering both shows followed by their titles; The View comes off as a much more powerful and self respecting source of female perspective then Loose Women. As irrelevant a point to make, for me it’s the little things.
I disagree with the assertion that some of these “feminine” issues come off as being unimportant or insignificant. It’s important to remember that for decades, women had traditionally been confined to the domestic sphere, a world that contained its own issues. To give women a televised space free from male judgment or dominance is in and of itself a revolutionary feat. Not only does the phenomenon allow for women on the show to openly express their feelings and discuss the issues they feel are pertinent without judgment; it also connects to domestic female audiences throughout the country who would otherwise be unexposed to discourses on topics that may affect their daily lives.
Hi all, thanks for your comments! – I think the article is partially in agreement with you Neil with regard to that fine hegemonic line I refer to. The show can be celebrated for including women and being aimed at women, but is also restrictive in terms of the types of topics dealt with being of the typical feminine discourse – along with all the ideological naturalisation that may bring. It is indeed focused on the decreasing amount of ‘domestic’ women although that again seems to narrow the focus and scope of content.
It’s also interesting that the participants are no ‘experts’ in anything in particular – they are celebrities, actresses and singers and I think that sometimes fuels some construction that these aren’t issues to be considered with any huge weight of importance.
But, you are right that these issues are actually appearing and women’s voices broadcast.
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